Legal bills flow in battle over sewer lines

A prolonged battle in court over who – the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office or Lordstown – may provide sanitary sewer service to the east side of the village has resulted in substantial legal bills for both sides.

Records show that the Sanitary Engineer’s Office spent $862,985 to pursue the lawsuit filed in 2008 to try to prevent Lordstown from operating a network of sewers independent from the county’s Metropolitan Sewer District, which already served portions of the village and several more areas in Trumbull County.

Lordstown spent $222,467 to defend against the lawsuit, filed first in Common Pleas Court, but moved to federal court in 2009.

The City of Warren, meanwhile, sued by the county because of an agreement to treat waste from Lordstown’s newly created sewer, spent $39,432 to defend itself against a breach of contract claim.

Lordstown and Warren prevailed in the federal court ruling, which lets Lordstown own and operate its sewer district on the east side of the village and keeps the west side, which includes the General Motors Lordstown Complex, under the jurisdiction of Trumbull County.

In addition, the judge ruled Warren did not breach its agreement with Trumbull County to treat waste from the Metropolitan District when it agreed to do the same for the sewer district on the east side of the village.

County officials argued with the lawsuit that the Lordstown was already part of the Metropolitan Sewer District and having a new district would cause the county to lose revenue. The GM complex was central to that argument.

Numbers from the Sanitary Engineer’s Office show revenue from the facility was about $1.3 million in 2013 and, according to the court decision, GM is the district’s largest customer, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of the annual revenue. The district, as of April 2010, had about 10,300 residential and commercial accounts.

Rex Fee, Sanitary Engineer’s Office executive director, said the county also believed Lordstown ”encroached on our sewer district.”

”We felt that they created a sewer district that was ours to own, operate and maintain,” Fee said.

However, the decision confirmed what Lordstown officials thought all along, that the village had the right to operate a sewer system within the municipality.

The decision indicates that the dispute involving GM was off the table in April 2011, when an earlier court ruling shows that Lordstown was ”entirely aware” that while Trumbull County had qualifying loans outstanding, GM could not become a customer of the village unless the county consented.

James Brutz, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, said although the village admitted it could not take on GM as a customer, it was not memorialized by judge until later and there still were other outstanding issues, like a try to have attorney fees paid.

Since April 2011, the county spent $288,435 toward the lawsuit.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda said the decision is appealable, but he could not say if it will be challenged.

The roughly 12-mile sewer project initially was estimated to cost $8.2 million, but by the time it was complete, the cost was about $11.3 million. It was paid for with three low-interest loans from the state. The term for each of the loans and the debt service, combined, is about $676,000 a year, said Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill. There is no capital fee charged to users, but users are required to pay a connection fee, Hill said.